Damien Hardwick is leaving Richmond after 307 games and three Premierships (Image: Richmond Football Club website)

As the smoke settles on Damien Hardwick’s sudden exit from Richmond, the search is on for the Tigers’ next Head Coach. The club will have to decide between taking an experienced head, or trialling an untested assistant.

Hardwick departs as the longest serving Richmond Coach, looking over 307 games and winning three Premierships. The Inner Sanctum surveys the options at who might follow the herculean reign.

Experienced Coaches

Nathan Buckley

218 games as Collingwood Head Coach between 2012-2021 (117 wins, 99 losses, 2 draws)

If Nathan Buckley wants to throw his hat back in the coaching ring, the job is his to lose. Taking Collingwood to three Prelims and a Grand Final across his ten years in charge.

Buckley’s Collingwood sides ran a free-flowing ball movement style, with a high volume of rushed inside 50s to allow their undersized forwards to pressure the ball and beat the opposition in a scrimmage.

He also managed an aging side through the Pies’ Grand Final surge, with players like Scott Pendlebury, Chris Mayne and Travis Varcoe entered the twilight of their careers.

His game plan would be a good fit for Richmond’s current model and squad, Buckley would have the tools at his disposal to build a contested possession midfield through the likes of Tim Taranto and Jacob Hopper. Along with the squadron of small forwards the Tigers have always had at their disposals.

Though, Buckley looks to be enjoying his time in media and is yet to express his desire to return to coaching.

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Leon Cameron

193 games as GWS Head Coach between 2014-2022 (101 wins, 88 losses, 4 draws)

Cameron took GWS to its inaugural Grand Final in 2019, as well as a one-goal Prelim loss to eventual Premiers the Western Bulldogs in 2016.  Across his nine years, he took GWS to three Prelims from five finals appearances.

Leon Cameron’s GWS squad had an ever-revolving cast with players constantly returning home to Victoria, or taking up better offers due to a tight salary cap. But his development of talent and his running ball movement style of play suited the Giants perfectly.

Young talents such as Liam Baker, Daniel Rioli and Shai Bolton all fit the mold of how Cameron structures his sides. Working to a commanding Key Forward in Tom Lynch, similar to Jeremy Cameron. Leon Cameron would be able to run a similar game style to what made the Giants so successful.

Justin Leppitsch

66 games as Brisbane Head Coach between 2014-2016 (14 wins, 52 losses)

Leppitsch took over the Lions in the midst of a stagnant period and struggled to impact any on-field results. With a win percentage of just 21.2 per cent over his three-year tenure, he returned to the assistant coaching scene for another apprenticeship.

Leppitsch’s Brisbane sides played a high-marking, uncontested gamestyle, avoiding the contests and looking to control the ball after seasons without success. His style would most likely need to shift into a run and carry ball movement with a slight favour towards contested possessions.

He spent four years at Richmond as an assistant coach between 2017-2020, so he has experience under Hardwick and knows the team and structures well and this may be the perfect role for his return to the Senior position.

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Don Pyke

93 games as Adelaide Head Coach between 2016-2019 (56 wins, 36 losses, 1 draw)

Pyke coached the Crows to back-to-back finals appearances in his first two seasons at the helm, including a Grand Final. A heavy defeat on the last day in September left scars within the team that reflected in on-field performance.

At their peak, Pyke had Adelaide running as a contested possession reliant team who controlled the ball and hit strong targets inside forward 50. His focus on quick and effective ball movement terrorised opponents with little way to stop the frantic advance up the field.

These metrics fell away in the second half of his reign but it was evident that was still the intended game plan.

In the 2020 season he joined the Sydney Swans as an assistant coach where he revitalised the Swans’ ball movement that saw their sudden jump into serious contenders and led to a 2022 Grand Final appearance.

Ben Rutten

44 games as Essendon Head Coach between 2021-2022 (18 wins, 26 losses)

Rutten took over Essendon as part of a succession plan from John Worsfold in 2020, and led the Bombers to finals in his first official season in 2021 before being eliminated by eventual runners-up the Western Bulldogs.

Rutten’s Bombers prioritised fast-paced ball movement, with high percentages of handball receives and playing on from marks. Offensively one of the best teams in 2021 but had work to do on the defensive side of the ball.

Rutten spent four years as Hardwick’s assistant from 2015-2018 and joined the club again at the start of 2023. He understands the Tigers system and the players, as well as the style of play they currently use and what structures are in place.

David Teague

50 games as Carlton Head Coach between 2019-2021 (21 wins, 29 losses)

Teague took over as a caretaker coach of Carlton in 2019 after Brendan Bolton’s dismissal mid-season, and won six of the eleven remaining games in order to be signed as the Carlton’s next Coach.

The Blues struggled through Covid and Carlton’s midfield-reliant setup wasn’t able to sustain from across a measurable number of weeks. With injuries rampant to key players, Teague found on-field results hard to come by.

Teague joined Richmond ahead of the 2022 season and has worked under Hardwick has with the players and developing structures. Along with a number of other experienced coaches he has a good understanding about the running of the club and the current performance.

Untested assistants

Adam Yze

One of the most decorated assistants in the game, Yze has been in the mix for most of the recent coaching positions but has always fallen short.

A disciple of Clarkson and a current member of the Melbourne Assistant Coaches, Yze will surely have his hat in the ring once again.

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Andrew McQualter

The man in the box seat, McQualter is taking over as caretaker coach for the foreseeable future. He signed as a development coach in 2014 and has been one of Hardwick’s assistants since 2016.

He has a deep understanding of the club and team structure, as well as strong relationships with the playing group and senior club members.

Josh Carr

Carr is currently in his second stint as assistant coach under Ken Hinkley at Port Adelaide, as well as spending time at Fremantle between 2019-2021.

He spent four years as the Head Coach of SANFL club North Adelaide, guiding them to a Premiership in 2018.

Daniel Giansiracusa

Giansiracusa spent 6 years at the Western Bulldogs, where he won Assistant Coach of the year in 2020 for his match simulation work and opposition analysis.

He has spent the last three seasons as an assistant at Essendon, working on setups and continuing in opposition analysis.

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Ashley Hansen

Hansen spent nine years of the Bulldogs in a variety of roles, including Head Coach of the VFL side for three years that he led to a Premiership in 2016.

In 2022, he joined Carlton’s coaching staff under Michael Voss. He took over the round two clash against the Western Bulldogs as Voss was isolating with COVID-19 and led the Blues to a 12-point win.

Jaymie Graham

Graham has spent time coaching with both Western Australia clubs and currently works under Justin Longmuir at Fremantle.

He was one of the final names in the mix for the Collingwood job before Craig McRae took the role. Graham received high praise for his interview process and game understanding.

Graham currently has a 100 per cent win record from three games at AFL level. Coaching the Eagles to a victory when Adam Simpson tended to a family emergency, and Fremantle to a pair of wins with Longmuir out for COVID reasons.

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